Sunday, October 2, 2022

People You Hate on Planes

Zoë Sharp


I am just back from my first post-pandemic trip overseas (about which I will tell you next time). Meanwhile, it seems that some things never change, so I’m taking the liberty of reposting this blog on things that may irritate you in the air, which I originally wrote back in 2017.

I can still remember the first time I ever flew on a commercial jet, as a fairly small child going to Malta on a family holiday. It was a huge adventure, including being allowed to traipse up to peer inside the cockpit and watch the flight crew at work.


I remember sitting in the exit row, and being asked to change seats with my parents because we were about to make an emergency landing and I could barely reach the door release, let alone be expected to operate it. After that, I assumed that all flights were greeted by a cavalcade of fire engines and ambulances lining both sides of the runway.


Ah, what balmy carefree days they were, when you could carry just about anything onto a plane, and pre-flight security was all but non-existent.


These days, flying is a means-to-an-end endurance test rather than a pleasure in itself, even in the comfy seats. Long lines and partial disrobing to get through the metal detectors and body scanners and X-ray machines, liquids in dollhouse-sized bottles, all electronic items unpacked and laid out for inspection.


Hey, we all have to do it, so the guy who’s in a bad mood or the one who thinks he deserves different treatment because he’s some kind of big shot in vending machine sales make me grit my teeth a little. Not too much, I admit, because it’s all fascinating research for the next time I have to write a pompous arse.


But once I’m on board a plane I tend to shut up, sit down and try not to annoy the staff, and I expect those around me to do the same. Various travel companies have done surveys of travellers’ worst nightmares, and the results seem to tally.


The Drunk

Now that airlines can refuse to allow passengers to board if they’re utterly plastered, this isn’t quite the problem that it used to be, but it does still crop up. I’ve flown on the same flight with people who’d clearly started on the spirits before 8am and continued until their destination, and by the end of it they were not pleasant company. I was also once on the same flight back from Dublin as a stag party, all of whom were so drunk they carried on staggering up and down the aisle during both take-off and landing, and then started a fight in the baggage hall. Joyous.


The Man-spreader

Now that ‘man-spreading’ has become a recognised vice, it seems to have expanded from the subway train seat to the airline seat as well. This is the guy who hogs the armrest, and overflows his tray table with laptop, iPad, etc. Sometimes it seems to be the most average-sized people who take up the most space. Heaven help you if you’re on a long flight in the centre of a row of three, with one such example on either side of you. Especially if one of them then goes to sleep with his head on your shoulder.


The Skunk

Bad breath or body odour is not nice if you have to stand behind someone in a queue for the supermarket checkout or bank teller. Being stuck alongside them on a nine-hour transatlantic flight is my idea of hell. As are those people who take their shoes and socks off and stick their feet between the seats of the row in front. Especially disgusting if they’ve been to the loo. You really don’t want to venture into an airplane lavatory without a stout pair of galoshes, or a pair of those disposable crime-scene bootees. Some people have so little sense of co-ordination that I’m amazed they’re able to dress themselves in the morning.


The Screamer

I know most babies only have one way to let their parents know they’re unhappy, and that’s to shriek, but once they get a little older, they should know it’s not acceptable behaviour – and so should their parents. And if they’re going to rely on an iPad or other device to play the electronic pacifier, a set of headphones would be a REALLY good idea. The tweedly noise made by a lot of those games is EXACTLY the type of sound used to torture detainees at certain government black sites. And it’s very effective …


The Loudmouth

A type I’ve occasionally had the misfortune to sit adjacent to on planes, but more often encountered on trains. The people who cannot have a conversation with their neighbour without projecting at such volume that half the cabin gets to listen in, too. Whether they like it or not. The trouble is, there is usually a direct correlation between how loud they are and how deadly dull their conversation is. Either that, or they voice views that make you want to punch them repeatedly in the mouth.


A variation on the Loudmouth is when they sit next to you and want to engage you in conversation for the duration of the journey. Or rather, they want to talk AT you for the duration. I once had a guy on a transatlantic flight who wanted to show me videos of the bottling machinery he’d just installed in a factory somewhere. I’m sure it was fascinating… just not to me.


The Nervous Flyer

The one who gasps at every shudder of the airframe, knuckles turning white on the armrest. Or, if you’re really unlucky, clutching your fingers. I’ve even had people holding hands across the aisle and praying loudly. And that was during take-off, never mind mid-air turbulence …


The Fidgets

This includes the window-seat passenger with the weak bladder, the one who put their bag in the overhead bin directly above your seat and wants something out of it every five minutes, and the one sitting behind you who can’t get out of their seat without heaving themselves up by clinging to your headrest every time. And the seat-kickers, of course. I recall being on a Boeing 777 flight that had touchscreens in the headrests. The person behind me was playing some kind of digital game for the entire flight that involved constantly tapping at the screen.


These days, of course, we can add to our list:

The Cougher 

The Cougher refuses to wear a mask, on the grounds that it’s all over now anyway. He – or She, for that matter – constantly coughs all over his/her hands, and does not appear to own a handkerchief. The Cougher then proceeds to finger his way through all the reading material in the seat pocket, so that you can almost see the trail of germs left behind.


And as I discovered on my recent return flight, the crew of that particular airline is given just eight minutes to clean up between turfing out one lot of passengers and the next lot beginning to board. I’m guessing those safety cards they tell you to take out and study do not get much of a wipe down… 


I’m sure there are plenty of others I’ve missed, but what’s your idea of the fellow passenger from hell?


This week’s Word of the Week is talion, from the Latin talio, and meaning retaliation. The principle that the punishment should be the equivalent or identical to the crime – so, the death penalty for murder. The imposition of that punishment. Hence the Latin lex talionis meaning an eye for an eye.


  1. I'm fortunate to be able to tune out most irritations on a flight - after all, I've probably flown close to 250 flight longer than 8 hours. Hence a lot of practice. The one I've not succeeded in dealing with is similar to your gamer on your headrest, namely the kid who kicks the back of my seat. I've never succeeded in solving this despite requests to the parents to control their offspring and offers of swapping seats (when I get to do the kicking!!). Suggestions very welcome, please.

    1. Hi Stan, I've also had the kid-kicking-the-back-of-the-seat dilemma. Fortunately, there was a spare seat next to me, and the mother did agree to swap so I was then sitting behind them. I agree, it's a tough one to deal with!

  2. Ah, yes. The disapproving evangelical next to me on the return flight from the US who could not bear my choice of TV series (Lucifer, as it happens, I was only really going to watch one episode) and the one who, four hours in and outside me in the middle set of 5, told me I wasn;t allowed to go to the toilet. I offered to pee in his dinner....

    1. Hi Helen, I love your answer to the person who told you that you weren't allowed to go to the toilet. I do hope you binge-watched Lucifer throughout the entire flight?

  3. All of the above. I've realised I just don't like people in any enclosed spaces. My trick now, book a seat in row 2 and at least I can't see it hear most of the others. I just get to tut at anyone in row 1 who uses the bulkhead as a footrest, especially if the shoes are off (and I'm talking short fligjts, nowadays!)